Mei Han and Red Chamber – Classical & Contemporary Chinese Music (ARC Music, 2016)
Dipping into the wonderful world of Chinese music, ARC Music is set to release Classical & Contemporary Chinese Music by the esteemed zheng player Mei Han and all women musical group Red Chamber on September 30th. Appearing on the Za Discs label, Ms. Han has recordings such as Ume (2006), Distant Wind (2005) with Randy Raine-Reusch, Outside the Wall (2005) with the Borealis String Quartet and the 2014 offering Gathering with Red Chamber. Red Chamber also has the 2008 recording Redgrass, also on the Za Discs, for listeners to explore.
With the combined musical prowess of Ms. Han and Red Chamber’s Guilian Liu, Geling Jiang and Zhimin Yu, one might suspect that this “plucked string” ensemble is simply a traditional Chinese musical group, but that would be far from the width and breadth of the musical aspirations of these musicians.
Masters of the zheng or long zither, the pipa or teardrop lute, the saxion or fretless longneck lute, the zhongruan or moon lute and the daruan or bass moon lute, Ms. Han and Red Chamber’s members delve into just about every kind of music from the music of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) to jazz to varied folk traditions from around the world and even slipping into the plucked goodness of Bluegrass.
Pairing elegance and pure passion, Classical & Contemporary Chinese Music opens with the jaunty “Dao Chuilian,” giving a listen into a 20th century Guangdong province, before diving headfirst into the quick work of composer Moshe Denburg’s “Dark Red Ruby” with its dashes of a klezmer and Balkan style by way of the liuqin or small teardrop lute and zheng by Ms. Han, pipa by Liu, zhongruan by Ms. Jiang and daruan by Ms. Yu.
“Xi’an Medley” is a lovely track comprised of a collection of tunes with names like “Melody of Plum Blossom” and “Moth to Flame.”
“Nokoto,” a tribute to Japanese koto master Tadao Sawai, is elegantly lush with the addition of Randy Raine-Reusch on zheng and Laurence Mollerup on acoustic bass.
Classical & Contemporary Chinese Music reveals more treats with the addition of “Girl Picking Flowers,” a composition by Red Chamber’s Ms. Yu, the Chaozhou styled track “Pink Lotus in Many Modes” and the riotously delightful Bulgarian folk dance “Gakino Horo.”
“Peng Baban” is a delicious traditional styled track from Shandong province. Other delights include the raucous folk tune “Sunny Spring and White Snow, “Datun Jelut,” a folk tune from the Kenyah and Kayan peoples of northern Borneo and the spunky “Dance of the Yao People,” a celebration of the Yao people of southwestern China.
Despite its rather prosaic title, Classical & Contemporary Chinese Music is a globe-trotting delight. Ms. Han and Red Chamber’s Ms. Liu, Ms. Jiang and Ms. Yu are truly impressive in their musical prowess as they are in the musical reach and well worth a listen.
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Author: TJ Nelson
TJ Nelson is a regular CD reviewer and editor at World Music Central. She is also a fiction writer. Check out her latest book, Chasing Athena’s Shadow.
Set in Pineboro, North Carolina, Chasing Athena’s Shadow follows the adventures of Grace, an adult literacy teacher, as she seeks to solve a long forgotten family mystery. Her charmingly dysfunctional family is of little help in her quest. Along with her best friends, an attractive Mexican teacher and an amiable gay chef, Grace must find the one fading memory that holds the key to why Grace’s great-grandmother, Athena, shot her husband on the courthouse steps in 1931.
Traversing the line between the Old South and New South, Grace will have to dig into the past to uncover Athena’s true crime.